Where do babies come from? Is it true that they get delivered to us in baskets carried in the beaks of storks? And how do we avoid getting babies? By getting men to stand on biscuit tins so they can jump off them at a certain crucial juncture during sexual intercourse? Of course not.
You see, there's a lot of myth, misleading euphemisms and awkward ignorance concerning the issue of how to get pregnant and how not to get pregnant. If you're having sexual relations with someone and you want to avoid pregnancy, then it's vitally important that you know a few facts about the issue. It's no use relying on some vague notion about 'a safe time of the month' or just hoping things will always be OK, because the chances are, things won't be OK. If people want to have sex, but don't want to have a baby, then what information should they know beforehand? And more importantly, what should they do about it?
Conversely, if people want to have children, is there anything they should know or do, so as to increase the likelihood of conception? For some couples, it's not always a simple case of just 'doing it' in order to make little babies.
In fact, getting pregnant can be much harder than you think. For a healthy fertile couple the normal success rate is only around 15-20%, so it's not uncommon to take some time to conceive. Infertility or subfertility (that's when it takes longer than expected to conceive) affects around one in seven couples in the UK. The usual definition of infertility is when a couple do not achieve a pregnancy after two years of regular, unprotected sex. Common cases of infertility include, ovulation problems, tubal blockage or endometriosis, male fertility problems or unexplained problems.
Old Wives' Tales
If you believe you are pregnant, you shouldn't pull the plug of a bath while actually still in the bath. Its said to dislodge the foetus as the water runs out the plughole...
Mmmm... this is the kind of rum advice that gets passed on down through the years. But is it true? Well, probably not. The suction in the plug hole isn't transferred to your innards - unless you actually sit right on top of the plug hole, fully blocking it - so this is little gem is definitely not true. What else is definitely not true?
- You can't get pregnant standing up
- You can't get pregnant from sex during your period
- You can't get pregnant if the man withdraws before orgasm
- You can't get pregnant while losing your virginity
All of the above are simply not true. And here are some other chestnuts:
An elderly neighbour of one of our Researchers swore by aspirin as a contraceptive. She was convinced that as long as a young lady kept one firmly squeezed between her thighs, pregnancy was impossible. [Ha! - Editor]
If you want a boy it is said that you should increase your salt content up to the point that you know you are definitely pregnant. For a girl, you increase your sugar content.
If you sleep with a pink ribbon under your pillow and sleep on the right, you'll get a girl. If you sleep with a red ribbon under your pillow and sleep on the left... you'll get a boy.
Whatever you do, don't handle a Pekingese dog while you're pregnant, or the baby will look like it when it's born.
How Not to Get Pregnant
You want sex, but you don't want babies? Well, they're not totally 100% perfect, but condoms are a very good idea indeed if you wish to enjoy safe sex and avoid unwanted pregnancy. A couple of pointers for the boys, though:
It can be difficult in the dark to see which side of the condom is which. If you try and unroll the condom the wrong way, you may touch your penis (and your penis by this stage may have already produced some ejaculate) against the outside of the condom. If this does happen, it's probably best to throw the condom away. Don't try and use it again. It will protect you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but it will not act as a contraceptive.
It is very important that the condom does not slip off during sex and remain inside the woman. This is most likely to happen if don't withdraw after orgasm. As you lose firmness, the condom might slip. Make sure to hold the base of the condom as you withdraw.
The most reliable solution is not to have sex unless you're prepared for the possibility that you might get pregnant - whether you want to or not. It's amazing how many people have neglected this simple premise. Abstinence might seem the best policy, but it's not that easy to follow!
The 'best' form of contraception depends on the couple themselves, but if you are in a short-term relationship or aren't 100% certain that the person you are with is likely to be with you through thick-and-thin, then condoms are a good option. Apart from being very good protection against pregnancy, they prevent STDs as well, which is a big plus. However, if you are in a long-term relationship, and are comfortable with your partner, then perhaps other forms of contraception could be considered. The contraceptive pill for women is a good alternative, as condoms aren't the most romantic of things and there is always the possibility that they will split. Oh, and a quick note on the pill; it works best if the woman taking it, takes it at the same time (roughly) every day. You need to be committed to taking the pill. It's not just a 'if I remember to take it, I will' affair. Doing that might just screw up a woman's cycle and she could end up getting pregnant anyway.
If neither abstinence nor contraception is your cup of tea, you could always try homosexuality (insert obligatory safe sex message here).
Two's Better Than One?
Some advice here from a Researcher whose policy it appears is 'better safe than sorry' - and if you want to avoid pregnancy, it's not a bad policy:
As far as contraception is concerned I recommend condoms until you are sure you trust the person you are with. But the key is to always have a back up. Use more than one form of contraception. In addition to a condom, use the pill (most effective form), a diaphragm, spermicidal foam (another good idea anytime), a sponge, an IUD, or Depo Provera shots. I'm sure there are forms I've left off, but the point is that two contraceptives is always a good idea, better safe than sorry in most cases.
And most important: never leave contraception up to the other person. Take your own responsibility. Talk about it with your mate. If you can't talk about contraception with your partner, then you have no business having sex with him/her.
More Common Pregnancy Avoidance Methods
Cycle method: In this method, the woman tracks her ovulation cycle, and the couple avoids sex during peak fertility times (but it's not very effective). This method has been reported to have a high success rate, however, among couples who don't yet know that there is a serious medical issue with one or the other.
Pull-out method: The man withdraws just before climax. It is not terribly effective either, since there is that little bit that comes out before climax. It's also terribly messy.
Diaphragm: A handy device that blocks the cervical opening. It can fail if it isn't installed just right, and likewise if it isn't removed just right. Consult a doctor in your area.
Birth control pills: A simple medical preventative. It can fail when it isn't taken responsibly, but even then the protection isn't absolute. Side-effects can include blood clots, heart problems, kidney failure, liver failure, and a bad hair day. Works best when taken orally.
Latex condoms: The most effective form of birth control this side of a monastery. It's a rubber balloon that fits over the male genitalia. This constricts and desensitizes the penis to the point where it deflates, making issue a physical impossibility.
Female condoms: Has anybody ever tried these?!
How to Get Pregnant
A woman has a fertile time lasting about two days in the middle of her monthly menstrual cycle. The fertile time starts when the woman ovulates (produces an egg) and ends about two days later. The most likely way to get pregnant is to have sex in this fertile time or up to two days before it.
But the problem is accurately identifying this fertile time as it varies from woman to woman and also in individuals. It usually happens about two weeks before the period, but it could be earlier or later. If you want to get pregnant, there are two ways to time sex to coincide with the fertile time. One way is to have sex every day. If you are too tired for this, take your temperature every morning at the same time before you get out of bed and record it carefully. While your temperature will vary slightly from day to day, it will rise sharply by about 0.2 degrees C and stay up at the time of ovulation. That's the time. Enjoy two days of frantic sex. Some women can also feel the time of ovulation by a change in the way they feel inside, or by bleeding slightly.
This method is often advocated as a contraceptive-free way of actually avoiding getting pregnant, but it is not reliable enough. There are many other reasons why your temperature might rise, leading to the impression that three days later you are safe. You can't really rely on using this knowledge as a foolproof method of contraception, as it is too hard to tell exactly when ovulation occurs.
Interesting to note that the texture of vaginal mucus also changes during the fertile period and many women feel higher libido at this time as well. Oh, and if the woman puts a pillow under her hips during intercourse it increases penetration and hence improves the chance of conception! Which brings us nicely on to the fact that...
... Women Need Orgasms!
According to an interesting TV documentary on sex recently, fertility is increased when the woman has an orgasm during or after the man. A man, while ejaculating, deposits a pool of semen at the back of the woman's vagina. When a woman orgasms, her cervix pushes forward - dipping itself into this pool several times. The likelihood of sperm entering the uterus through the cervix is therefore increased greatly when the woman orgasms. So, although you don't need an orgasm to get pregnant, it certainly helps, and it makes things a bit more fun, too.
Anyway, there are other ways to get pregnant. Artificial insemination involves the relatively unromantic injection of semen into the woman's vagina. Sometimes this semen was previously frozen by anonymous donors - who typically were paid for their contribution. This allows a single mother (or a lesbian couple) to give birth without the necessity of recognizing a legal father. Occasionally, a man will freeze his own sperm before undergoing a fertility-busting medical treatment like chemotherapy and will re-use it for procreative purposes later.
It is also possible for a woman to have fertilized eggs from her own ovaries or from a female donor implanted in her uterus. This involves costly surgery, and so is typically only done when the woman has already exhausted other fertility treatments. In the most extreme cases, a fertilized egg will be forced to divide several times before the multiple eggs are implanted in the potential mother. This extremely expensive method often results in multiple births.
The Good old Missionary Position
The best conception position is the missionary position. Immediately after the male orgasm, place a pillow under the woman's hips, raising her bottom. Raise legs with knees bent. Remain in this position for about 20 minutes, long enough for the male to fetch the female a well-earned cup of tea. According to one Researcher:
I once read that the female should stand on her head to conceive but that's a little extreme and mighty uncomfortable...I mean, carpet burns on top of your head? If that doesn't work, try getting drunk. It worked for some of the girls in my High School.
Honesty is the Best Policy
The best thing parents can do for their teenagers is to encourage openness and honesty. Listen to the kindly words of a Researcher who has obviously benefitted from this approach:
My teenaged daughters both felt comfortable talking to me about sex, both of them told me when they lost their virginities. I happily went along with them for their first birth-control consultations. Maybe it was because of how I was brought up, sex was not something to be discussed in my family, and I learned all about sex (not!) from school friends... I even lied to my mother about being a virgin on my wedding night, she never knew I'd been on the pill for two years already. I never wanted that with my girls. My teenaged son, though, is another matter... I've said three words to him on the subject of birth control, 'Just be careful!'